For the third and final post in our small series looking at the effects of the pandemic on child wellbeing and general family mental health, we’re going to wrap up some of the topics we’ve been discussing and take a quick look at one final area – additional needs. Once again, if you have not read our previous posts on mental health and child safeguarding, then it is highly recommended that you do so before diving into this one.
Family Problems are Rarely Unique
So far we have discussed family situations where there is a clear issue within the unit. Whether this is the mental health of one or more family members, an abusive influence or other big problems; the one thing they all have in common is that they cause untold stress on the people involved. However, this is a trait shared by so many aspects of daily life, especially since the pandemic began, that it can be hard to see a way through things sometimes.
Of course, this is nothing new. But the one thing that 2020 has definitely done is piled untold stress upon just about all of us. For many of us, this has been tough, but for those already living under a lot of stress, this extra helping can make life seem nearly unbearable bleak.
The stress of working from home, having to entertain the children, questionable job security, and many other factors all lead to one source of worry: an uncertain future.
But why are we laying all of this out now? We’ve all been living through this year and surely we don’t need to be reminded of just how bad things could look, do we?
Well, no, probably not. But by acknowledging the unpleasant thoughts and concerns that many of us will be thinking yet no one really wants to vocalise, the hope is that we can realise that we’re not alone.
Right now, arguably the biggest thing we need in our lives is a safe and consistent routine. You may not even realise it, but this is one of the biggest things we have all been robbed of by lockdown and the pandemic as a whole. Our domestic, social, work and leisure routines were all a carefully constructed balance, and they have all been torn down by the global situation.
We All Crave Routine, Not Just Children
There is an old saying that “children crave routine”. It generally seems meant to indicate that we need to be strict and enforce rules and boundaries on our children for their own good. There has even been plenty of published psychological research on the benefits of routines for children. But arguably, for most of us our entire lives are based on established routines, and having them taken away has caused a lot of stress and worry.
When discussing mental health with our friendly member of the Public Health Nursing team, they told us just how important a planned activity in a daily routine can be. For those of us that may not have any direct support or a good living situation, having that one activity you can rely on in a day can make a huge difference.
For those of us that have spent days at home alone with our child/children, you know just how long a day can be. Add to this the stress and mental toll of loneliness or the uncertainty of the world right now, and it can be a strong recipe for mental health issues. Honestly, any and all family cohesion has been tested by the lockdown and the removal of our routines. Cracks may have appeared even for the happiest of families; this is why it is important to get back out there when it is possible (and safe) to do so and start to reestablish some small parts of your routine!
Clubs Provide a Vital Space
We mentioned previously how sports clubs and other such activities provide some important away from home time for children. But they actually provide an equally vital space for adults. Serving as a consistent activity that can be relied upon as part of a days’ routine, parents that may not otherwise leave the house or see another adult get an opportunity to do so. Even if they don’t directly talk to anyone, just being in a different setting and not having to focus on the same things for just an hour or so can really make a huge difference to their moods and mental wellbeing.
The Public Health Nursing team member we were talking with also highlighted this. They stated that it was “very important” for parents and children to get out of the house and socialise. This not only helps their state of mind, but can go a long way to helping them have a mini recharge so they can feel more able to handle the rest of the day. Something that being stuck indoors with no break cannot offer.
As a quick side note, it is key to distinguish between getting out and socialising and using social media. Social media can be excellent for keeping in contact with your friends and family during these difficult times, but you should never put much stock into most other things floating around out there. People use social media to show a very specific side of their lives, and it can be very easy to be made to feel inadequate if that is all you compare yourself to. The Public Health Nursing team have found that to a greater or lesser extent, a lot of parents believe themselves to be failures or inadequate because they do not go to the overblown lengths they see online.
More often than not, your child simply needs you, your attention and participation; not elaborate and carefully choreographed activities. Do not use social media parents as your metric, you are only getting a carefully chosen snippet of reality. Show yourself a little kindness and focus on your children, not what other people choose to show off.
Developmental Concerns and Additional Needs
Pretty much everything we’ve covered so far indicates that children’s social development will have been hampered by the closure of schools, clubs etc. But the Public Health Nursing team have also been seeing a rise in babies and young children exhibiting delays in their physical development as well. This will range in its symptoms and severity of course, but there has been a definite rise in babies crawling and walking later, as well as poor coordination and fine motor skill development in toddlers and older children.
These kinds of developmental issues have only been heightened for children with additional needs. In fact the whole situation has provided a lot of extra pressure and challenge for families with children that have additional needs.
All of their regular appointments, which are hard enough to secure in the first place, have been made digital if they are even able to happen at all. When you consider the needs of the children this service is intended for, such as autism, downs syndrome, behavioural difficulties and other developmental and social conditions, it quickly becomes obvious that a virtual appointment is going to be significantly less effective for their needs.
Sport and Clubs Offer a Strong Step Back in the Right Direction
For both of these scenarios, just as with many of the other problems caused by lockdown we’ve discussed, trying to get back to some kind of normality is a great idea when safe to do so. Sports and other clubs offer children the chance to develop their social and physical skills whilst providing parents with an opportunity to have a moments respite. There are many options out there from simply having a walk to trying a new club and a lot in between.
Obviously, we can’t speak for other clubs, but from what our numbers are looking like a lot of people are already thinking about similar things. We are experiencing an unprecedented demand for baby classes at the moment, which we are working hard to fulfil. Now, this is brilliant as it gives us the chance to help as many babies on their developmental journeys as possible. But at the same time, take-up for our Additional Needs classes has diminished. This is clearly not great news, and we would firmly encourage any parents of children with additional needs to get in touch as we would love to run more classes tailored to your children.
Look for the Light at the End of the Tunnel
Whilst the world is undeniably still in a state of massive upheaval right now and all of our routines and certainties may have been eroded away. The most important thing to do is hang on in there and look after yourself and others. There have been some very tough times this year, more so for some than others, but tough none the less. But hard times do not last for ever.
Pandemics always end. Social distancing isn’t going away any time soon, but it will one day in the hopefully not too distant future. Lockdowns may happen, but they won’t be anywhere near as long as the first one we all had. Keep your eyes focused on the better future that will inevitably follow when this does come to an end. Worrying and stressing about things you can’t change in the here and now will just make you ill and you deserve better than that.
One day the sun will rise and all of our current trials and tribulations will be thing of the past. That is worth hanging on to.
We just wanted to say a big thank you to those of you who have read this small series of blog posts as they’ve been coming out. We know they have been a slight departure from what we normally post, but we just felt that the issues we’ve discussed are so important and often overlooked, that we wanted to try and do our bit in highlighting them. We never set out to do a deep dive into any one topic in particular, simply to bring some awareness to them. We hope that you may be encouraged to learn more about something we have covered and if nothing else look after your own mental health and the mental health of those closest to you.
Good times will come again, and Gym Bubbas will be right here with you when they do.
Where to Get Help
If you have been affected by any of the topics covered in this blog post series or want to find out more including how to get help then please check out these resources:
- NSPCC Helpline – 0808 800 5000
- Childline – 0800 1111
- Plymouth Public Health Nursing – 01752 434008
- Plymouth Social Services – 01752 668000
- The Plymouth Online Directory
- The Plymouth CAHMS Team – Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services
- Refuge – A charity for women and children against domestic violence
- ManKind – A charity that focuses on domestic violence against men
- NHS Domestic Violence and Abuse website
- NHS Mental Health Services website